[UPDATED May 23, 2012] — It’s certainly a great time of year to photograph one of my favorite subjects: flowers. They’re readily available and never complain about having their picture taken.
I thought I would update my previous column — from a few years ago when we first started the Framework blog — with a new flower gallery.
Lately, with the improvements in smartphones, you can take beautiful nature photos with the phone’s camera. I’m amazed at how close the camera focuses. If you want to get even closer, try out an attachment like the olloclip, which I wrote about in a previous post.
It will bring you in close enough to the flower to capture features you typically would miss with your eyes.
A macro lens on your DSLR is an option you should consider. If you plan to zero in on a specific detail of the flower, go after unique patterns, texture, and colors, or parts of the flower like the petals, style and stamen which can go unnoticed.
I did mention in the earlier post that an overcast day is best for shooting flowers, but I’m going to change my opinion on this one. A bright sunny day can produce great results, especially in the early morning or late afternoon — those magical hours of warm, directional light give you a chance for silhouettes, back-lighting, and great shadows. So there’s no excuse; cloudy days, rain drops or clears skies are all perfect to capture the essence of nature’s colorful blossoms.
Who says I can’t disagree with myself?
With summer upon us, there certainly couldn’t be a better time to get out and start shooting flowers. Flowers are one of my favorite subjects to shoot, and you don’t have to go to faraway locations. Nice photos can be taken right in your backyard.
I grow roses and calla lilies in my garden and they seem to look different every time I shoot them. So many factors can influence your shoot. Here are a few of my suggestions for taking professional-looking pictures of your flowers.
Time of day – The consensus among photographers is that early morning is the best time to photograph flowers. Try to shoot before the wind picks up and makes the flowers a moving target. Gusts of wind make it hard to focus and can create a motion blur depending on your shutter speed.
Overcast – Generally speaking, it’s best to photograph flowers in overcast light or in the shade. The softer light works best for capturing the fragile quality of petals.
Break the rules – This overcast rule is definitely meant to be broken. In certain situations, direct light would certainly produce dramatic results. Can you picture yourself in a field of wildflowers or out in the desert with the bright sun? It is going to give you spectacular results with the cavernous blue sky and nature’s vivid colors. Did I already mention most rules in photography are meant to be broken?
Light is the key – Don’t forget to use some backlight when the sun is out. This is where you can produce beautiful color and make the flowers glow. You need to shoot with the light source behind the flowers. This will give you back-lit, rim-lighted petals with a translucent effect. If you can vary your exposure, do it here. It’s hard to tell what will look good until you try it out. Experimentation is key.
Go for variety – Don’t forget, cut flowers from the florist or home improvement store can provide you with some spectacular subject matter and give you a variety you can’t find in your garden. Close-up photos of cut flower arrangements or a single flower with some simple window light can produce dazzling results.
Check out your local garden or arboretums – It’s really not hard to find a subject for free or a nominal fee, providing you with a nice day out and some exercise. You can spend hours photographing flowers with no complaints from your subject. It’s hard to beat the combination.
Equipment – Don’t use this as an excuse. Granted a really nice DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera will give you an advantage with a macro (close-up) lens. But most point-and-shoot cameras have a close-up setting, so be sure to check your camera’s instruction booklet. This will improve your photographs and now, with the olloclip attachment for your iPhone, it’s just getting easier to capture nature’s beauty.
Vary your lens and angle – Remember to shoot both close-up and wide-angle. Nothing is more boring than seeing multitudes of your flowers from the same angle and lens. Most cameras have zoom lenses, which are convenient, but move your body too. Be sure to capture flowers from above and below and along the side if possible. Take photos of a single flower up close. Next take a cluster, and then a wide-angle for the garden itself. Finally, do your friends a favor and edit those photographs down to a few favorites for a nice short slide show.
Pay attention to detail – Remember to check your viewfinder after shooting your photographs. Check for distracting backgrounds and elements that don’t need to be in the photographs. Moving in closer to limit your depth-of-field will help eliminate those messy backgrounds. Try to do most of the work with your camera, not Photoshop.
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Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman